Lilies of the Field

Long time coming.

Twenty-four years after Gone With the Wind’s Hattie McDaniel broke the color barrier for Oscar acting winners, Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to win the little golden man.

One of the last “old Hollywood” legends still living (he turns 94 next month), Poitier was honored by the Academy for this gentle ’63 tale of a wanderin’ man who lands among a pack of nuns, changing their lives.

Handy with a hammer, he finds himself building a chapel, while verbally dueling with the flock’s Mother Superior (Oscar nominee Lilia Skala).

Simple, yet stirring — a landmark in cinema history.

The Defiant Ones

“They’ll probably kill each other in the first five miles.”

Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis are prisoners on the run, lashed together by shackles and racial-tinged hatred.

Desperate to stay one step ahead of the braying dogs, and gun-packing cops, hot on their heels, the duo learn life lessons along the way, becoming better men.

Now, that sounds a tad preachy, and director Stanley Kramer was a big one for “message” movies, but the film roars with life thanks to the performances of its cast.

Poitier, in particular, is aces as a man who has reached his breaking point.

To Sir, With Love

Respect.

Sidney Poitier’s schoolroom leader teaches it, and earns it back, in a story about the impact of one good man on a pack of troubled students.

An immigrant to Britain, his character is supposed to be an engineer, but ends up accepting a temporary teaching position while waiting for a job offer to develop.

Once inside the classroom, he butts heads with rough ‘n rowdy locals, including Lulu, whose performance of the title track resulted in the best-selling single of ’67.

Is the movie a bit sappy?

Sure, but who says sentimental has to be a bad word?

 

Blackboard Jungle

You gotta fight for your right … to teach.

Staring down a mob of students waiting to pounce at the first sign of fear, new teacher Glenn Ford finds himself locked in a war of wills while trying to control his classroom.

Sidney Poitier is your classic gifted student hiding behind a rough exterior, but Vic Morrow is a straight-up punk, living life as a thief and mugger.

When he does show up for class, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s real-life father is more likely to shatter a teacher’s record collection than prep for a test.

Let’s get ready to rumble.

 

In the Heat of the Night

“They call me Mister Tibbs!”

Sidney Poitier ain’t taking no crap from nobody in this still-searing murder mystery set in a small Southern town drenched in hate and racism.

Rod Steiger took home the Best Actor Oscar, while the film won five awards including Best Picture in a tough year in which all-timers Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, and The Graduate were in the mix.

But it’s Poitier, unleashing righteous fury, who really rules this film.

When he slapped the town’s rich, racist plantation owner, it sent shockwaves across the nation, forever cementing his status as a cinematic badass.